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Egypt, US Work to Boost Palestinian Israeli Truce

Egyptian, US mediators Work Hard to Boost Palestinian – Israeli Truce

Palestinian Leadership, Factions Confirm Adherence to Hudna

US and Egyptian mediators met with Palestinian and Israeli leaders amid an impasse over Palestinian detainees held in the jails of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) that threatens to torpedo the fragile, 11-day-old cease-fire, to which Palestinian leadership and factions reconfirmed their commitment to on Wednesday.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) said the detainees must be quickly released and Israel should withdraw from additional Palestinian cities.

"All of the Palestinian parties are committed to the truce (and) will continue to be committed to it, but we expect and hope from the Israeli side that it will stop its violations,” he told reporters.

The IOF have already withdrawn from key parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank Governorate of Bethlehem, but maintained the siege they impose on both areas.

President Yasser Arafat last week described these Israeli moves as “cosmetic” and urged “real” Israeli implementation of the US-sponsored “roadmap.”

PNA MP and former chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that while the PNA is suffering from internal problems, Abbas’ "wagon is really overloaded” by a lack of action on the part of Israel and the Americans.

"I don't deny that there are difficulties and problems internally,” Erekat said But Abbas’ wheels are "stuck in the mud,” he said - by Sharon trying to dictate the situation when it comes to releasing Palestinian detainees, and by the Americans for failing to come up with a plan for implementing the “roadmap.”

"Abbas needs our help,” Erekat said. "He needs assistance... It's up to the Americans to [come up with] a comprehensive implementation plan.”

The next move in the Israeli-Palestinian “roadmap” peace process is up to the Americans, a leading PNA official told CNS News on Wednesday.

US Middle East envoy John Wolf Wednesday met with Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan and a diplomat indicated that meetings with Israeli officials were also planned.

Israeli sources on Wednesday said that Dahlan was scheduled to meet with the Israeli Minister of “Defense” Shaul Mofaz Thursday, but the meeting has yet to be confirmed.

Wolf is "exploring ways of how to advance the peace process, how to speed it up, how to move it along,” Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said.

Wolf on Tuesday met the Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and urged Israel to increase the number of Palestinian detainees to be released and to dismantle the recently - built illegal settlers’ outposts.

Meanwhile an Egyptian senior security delegation visited the Gaza Strip to shore up the truce and met with their Palestinian counterparts, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah factions.

"We assured them we are committed to the initiative which we announced (the truce),” Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin said after meeting with the Egyptian delegates.

"We put the Egyptian delegation in the picture about Israeli violations and aggression and we told them we will have patience and tolerance but told them that our patience is limited.”

Similarly Islamic Jihad spokesman Nafez Azzam charged that Israel is sabotaging the truce by continuing its military operations. The truce "is not going to be free and is not going to be forever,” Azzam said after meeting the Egyptians.

The Egyptian delegation, comprising Generals Mustafa Al-Buhairi, Mohammad Ibrahim and adviser to the Egyptian embassy in Gaza Ahmad Abdulkhaleq, said that the Palestinian side implemented more than 80% of their obligations according to the “roadmap” peace plan, Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam reported on Thursday.

Palestinian presidency’s Secretary General Taib Abdul-Rahim told Al-Ayyam that the problem lies now with the Israeli violations of the truce, which lure Palestinian reactions.

Palestinians are insisting on the release of the estimated 7,000 detainees held in Israel, most on suspicion of involvement in anti-occupation activities. Palestinian officials argue this would provide credibility to the government of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas.

Israel has decided to release about 400 prisoners, representing about 5% of the total, according to PNA Minister of Cabinet Affairs Yasser Abed Rabbo.

Israeli officials say anyone involved in killing Israelis would not be freed and note that the “roadmap” peace plan does not mention the issue.

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